NEW YORK -- With some notable exceptions, retailers posted decent sales gains in the all-important month of December, aided by a fairly promotional environment.
Sears Merchandise Group, J.C. Penney Stores, The Talbots Inc. and The Neiman Marcus Group all outperformed the overall group, while Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, Ames Department Stores, The Dress Barn, Ann Taylor Stores Corp. and The Limited were weak.
Sears pumped out a 13.3 percent same-store domestic sales gain, exceeding the company's expectations in categories ranging from apparel to big ticket items.
Penney's, noting its focus on value-oriented merchandise, said stronger sales in all its merchandise divisions -- men's, women's and children's apparel and home goods -- helped same-store sales surge 10 percent.
Talbots had a 13.6 percent jump in comparable-store sales and said merchandise was sold at regular prices until Dec. 26, when it began its semiannual sale.
NMG's same-store sales climbed 8.4 percent, with overall sales up 8.7 percent.
The Gap said its sales were significantly less promotional than a year ago, as same-store results improved 4 percent.
Federated Department Stores produced a 4.8 percent rise in same-store sales, "well ahead" of expectations, but noted that Christmas was more promotional than anticipated.
May Department Stores Co.'s same-store sales rose 4.9 percent, and overall sales were up 8.2 percent.
Dayton Hudson Corp. reported a 3.2 percent same-store sales gain, but observed that December was an "extremely promotional month," with the majority of sales in low-margin categories. DH's Target division was up 6 percent on a same-store basis, the department store group's comparable stores were up 5 percent, while Mervyn's continued to be the laggard, with same-store sales off 4 percent.
Leading the downward slide was MGR, with a 16 percent same-store sales decline. However, the company pointed out that sales picked up in the last two weeks of the month and comparable sales were higher than in the year-ago period.
The Limited's women's chains continued to get hammered, leading to a 1 percent decline in comparable-store sales. Wal-Mart Stores, which usually boasts same-store sales increases of 8 percent or more, was dragged down by its Sam's Club segment and showed only a modest 4 percent rise.
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